|David St. Louis (center), Emily Padgett and Erin Davie. Photo: Joan Marcus
Side Show Asks Whether a Couple of ‘Freaks’ Can Find a Normal Life
By Lauren Yarger
Inspired by the true-life story of conjoined twins who became the highest-paid performers on the Vaudeville circuit, Broadway’s revival of Side Show offers some solid voices singing a pleasing Henry Krieger score, but let’s face it. Life as sisters joined at the hip – literally – has its drawbacks and, well, is still kind of a bummer despite songs and material added to broaden the scope of this revival.
Erin Davie and Emily Padgett are the Hilton twins, Violet and Daisy. Abused by their guardian, whom they call Sir (Robert Joy), they are forced to work in the freak show he runs and to strip and reveal their connection to anyone willing to pay a few extra bucks. Sir draws the line at anyone touching the girls, however, and employs Jake (David St. Louis in a break-out role) to protect them. He does more than that. He falls in love with Violet.
Violent loves Jake, but as a friend. Despite wanting a home and family, and a life “Like Everyone Else,” she doesn’t think the society who drools over her and her "Freak" friends would be tolerant of her relationship with an African-American any way. Meanwhile, Daisy, the opposite of her sister in personality, is flirty and dreams of adventure and fame in Hollywood.
Along comes a man who might be able to make that happen. Terry Connor (Ryan Silverman) catches the girls’ act and convinces friend Buddy Foster (Matthew Hydzik), a scout for the Orpheum Circuit, that they have potential. He creates an act for them with song-and-dance man Buddy (Anthony Van Laast choreographs) and helps them win their freedom from Sir.
Meanwhile, he orchestrates publicity frenzy over Buddy’s marriage to Violet, all while avoiding his own feelings for Daisy. He might be willing to explore them, he tells her, if the twins would agree to undergo risky surgery to separate them.
The story plays out against a set designed by David Rockwell and lighted by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer to bring out the dark mood and humor: “I’m well connected, a character claims…”
Assorted “Freaks” are frighteningly costumed by Paul Tazewell with Hair and Wig Design by Charles LaPointe, Makeup Design by Cookie Jordan and Special Makeup Effects by Dave Elsy and Lou Elsy. Illusions are by Paul Kieve, Tazewell also has a chance to create some stunning evening dresses for the twins.
The cast of Side Show's characters includes a Three-Legged Man (Brandon Bieber), a Dog Boy (Javier Ignacio), a Half Man Half Woman (Kelvin Moon Loh), a Reptile Man (Don Richard) and a Bearded Lady (Blair Ross) among many others.
Violet and Daisy's friend Houdini (Ignacio) teaches the girls how to disappear into themselves, but what they really want is to find someone “Who Will Love Me As I Am.” Davie and Padgett nail that showstopper ending to Act One, with its moving lyrics by Bill Russell. The audience included obvious fans of the show who were waiting for that number and others like “I Will Never Leave You.”
Standing out is dreamy-voiced St. Louis, who brings down the house with “The Devil You Know” and makes us feel Jake’s pain. All of the vocals are good here, actually, so maybe these leads will find their way to stardom the way original stars Emily Skinner, Alice Ripley and Norm Lewis did following the original Broadway production.
Reimagining the show with some new material and bringing in film Director Bill Condon (“Chicago,” “Dreamgirls,” “Twilight: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2”) for his stage debut doesn’t change the underlying sad tone to this show, however.
View Side Show at the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th St., NYC. Performances are Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets: $49 - $155. A limited number of $30 student rush tickets for student’s under 30 years old are available at the Box Office for purchase on day of performance. www.SideShowBroadway.com.
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